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Fresh Challenge

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Even as Pakistan PM Imran Khan goes on about the dangers of an Indo Pak conflict, the regional temperature went up very literally with the attack – claimed by the Houthis but attributed to the Iranians by the US – on the Aramco oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is not only a pillar of the present day global economy, but has particular importance for India, China, Japan, etc., as a major oil supplier. The crippling of the Aramco facilities is expected to impact its oil supplies by around thirty percent and lead to rise in petrol and diesel prices. Although reassurances by Saudi Arabia and the US on keeping supplies going have tempered the price rise from 20 to 10 percent, experts believe that oil companies are bound to exploit the situation to make money. From the Indian point of view, Saudi Arabia is also a major employer of expatriate workers and a significant investor. In an already pessimistic economic environment, such events will impact investor sentiment, adversely affect stock markets – the BSE tanked on Tuesday – and create major security concerns. Even if the Iranians provided assistance to the Houthis in carrying out the attack, it gives an indication of how modern technology such as drones can bypass conventional defences. Despite being one of the biggest purchasers of weapons in the world, Saudi Arabia could not prevent the attack from a comparatively much weaker enemy. This incident will have the generals scurrying to their drawing boards to re-examine their strategies. The potential for such attacks exists even more between India and Pakistan. It is one of the reasons why Imran Khan is in a panic over such an event triggering a war between the two nuclear armed countries. He has seen how the radicals in his country have attempted to exploit public opinion over Kashmir to launch their versions of jihad and has taken it upon himself to become the ‘ambassador’ of the cause to prevent exactly this. While he has blown hot and cold in his speeches and interviews, in effect he has taken concrete steps like calling off for the time being an incendiary march to the LOC by populist elements. The Aramco attack will make things even more difficult for him on the already challenged economic front. The anticipated rise in petrol prices will hurt India, but it can only be imagined how it will affect the beleaguered Pakistan economy. The entire region, today, requires to be calmed down, in which India must play its important part.